My name is Ben Clark and I live in Littleton, CO, USA. I am a geochemist and will help interpret how the compositions of rocks, soils and sediments that we analyze are related to other materials on Mars and what they tell us about the history of the planet. As part of the ChemCam team, I will be making comparisons with the data we get from Curiosity to a large set of data we now have on Mars and an even larger set of information for the Earth. I also work on other missions, including Comet missions, and help other scientists develop concepts for future missions that they can propose to NASA.
When I was younger, I was very interested in science, and enjoyed math problems (except when they gave me a headache). By chance, when I was in the 6th grade, I came across an article about Mars and was so intrigued that I put together a project about it. My professional interest in Mars did not arise until thirty years later, when I had a chance to help develop a life detection instrument that was proposed for the Viking mission to Mars. Although it was not selected, I then developed an instrument for measuring the composition of martian soils, and it flew on the Viking landers in 1976. Besides Viking, I have been involved in the two Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) which have been exploring Mars for over six years, and the recent Phoenix mission which landed in the northern polar regions.
One of the frustrating things about the Viking mission was that we could pick up only soils, and not rocks, to analyze. The MER rovers (Spirit and Opportunity) can place their instruments down on samples. However, this too has been often frustrating because we have had to pass by dozens of interesting rocks and crusts due to the delay of two or three days that it takes to position in front of a rock and analyze it (overnight). With the ChemCam experiment, we simply point the laser at anything interesting and analyze in just a few minutes. We hope to analyze ten to one hundred times as many materials each month we operate on Mars compared to previous rovers. I would be greatly excited if MSL finds organic compounds and/or carbonate rocks. It would greatly increase the prospects for life on Mars.